- Federal vehicle safety regulators have launched a special accident investigation to determine the cause of a fatal collision that involved a Tesla Model S and a fire truck in February 2023.
- The Model S driver died, a passenger was seriously injured and four firefighters were taken to hospital immediately after the crash, according to California Highway Patrol and Contra Costa County Fire Department records. .
- The new investigation is part of a larger federal investigation into the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot systems and their performance around parked first aid vehicles.
In this photo provided by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, firefighters are seen at the scene of a fatal accident involving a Tesla fire truck and Contra Costa County on February 18, 2023 in Contra Costa, in California.
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District
Federal vehicle safety regulators have launched a new special investigation into a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S sedan and a fire truck in Walnut Creek, Calif., last month, CNBC confirmed.
The driver of the Tesla died, a passenger was seriously injured and four firefighters who were inside the fire truck were taken to hospital after the crash, according to records obtained by CNBC from California. Highway Patrol and the Contra Costa County Fire Department.
The Associated Press first reported on the special investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
According to fire department records after the Feb. 18 incident, the fire truck was parked in the middle of a highway to protect other first responders who were towing a disabled vehicle from the area when the Tesla vehicle veered into it. .
NHTSA and CHP have each opened separate investigations into the crash.
The CHP wrote in a statement following the fatal incident: “It is not clear whether the influence of drugs or alcohol was a factor in this accident. It was not possible to determine at the scene whether the Tesla was being operated with driver assistance or automation enabled at the time of the accident.”
The CHP and NHTSA want to know if Tesla’s driver assistance systems, which are marketed as autopilot and full self-driving options in the United States, caused the accident.
All new Tesla vehicles in the US come with a standard driver assistance package called Autopilot. Customers who pay Tesla a monthly subscription of $199 or $15,000 upfront can also get additional driver assistance features under a premium package called FSD, which stands for Full Self-Driving. Tesla also allows FSD customers to register for FSD Beta, which is a way to test out new features that haven’t been fully debugged on the public highway.
Despite their brand names, Tesla does not manufacture a driverless vehicle or system. The company warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take control of the steering or braking at all times.
The crash investigation is part of an extensive investigation by NHTSA into Tesla’s driver assistance systems and their performance around parked first aid vehicles.
According to agency website records, NHTSA opened a “preliminary assessment” of Tesla’s Autopilot systems on Aug. 13, 2021. “The initiation of the investigation was prompted by an accumulation of crashes in which of the Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck while stationary in-road or roadside rescue vehicles dealing with pre-existing crash scenes,” he said.
According to the NHTSA report, at least 14 Teslas have crashed into first responder vehicles while using the Autopilot system.
NHTSA expanded the investigation to include “engineering analysis” in the spring of 2022, to determine whether Tesla’s systems may “exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by compromising the effectiveness of driver supervision.”
Simply put, NHTSA is trying to determine if Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD and other driver assistance features are causing motorists to be so distracted from the road that they’d drive safer without them.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. NHTSA does not comment on open investigations.